An ancient Turkish proverb goes "Who seeks a faultless friend remains friendless." There are many things to be appreciated in life and, with no doubt, a real friendship is one the best. But, where can you find one? Is closeness important? How can you build a good friendship? Are there any boundaries in friendship? According to the following animated film, what we tend to consider as a genuine friendship doesn't necessarily depend on aspects like space and time.
During the seventies, Mary Daisy Dinkle, a lonely girl with low self-esteem from Mount Waverly (a suburb of Melbourne, Australia), develops a particular interest for the United States. Mary lives with her father, a neurotic and obsessive taxidermist –who's always working and pays no attention to his daughter–, and her mother, an alcoholic kleptomaniac who, like her father, always neglects her. One day, while she goes with Vera, her mother, to the Post Office, she finds a telephone guide from New York. Since she has always been curious about how people in the United States live, she chooses the address of a random stranger, Max Jerry Horowitz, to whom she writes a letter asking all the doubts she has about his country. Max, a lonely and morbidly obese forty-year-old, answers her, and so, after many letters, a solid friendship is built.
Mary and Max (2009) is a stop-motion animation film directed by Adam Elliot, starring Toni Collette (Mary), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Max), Eric Bana, and Bethany Whitmore. Taking friendship as a common thread, the movie deals with difficult subjects like depression, loneliness, prejudices, alcoholism, suicide, and bullying. Mary is constantly bullied due to a birthmark on her forehead, while Max suffers constant anxiety attacks that make it hard for him to relate to other people.
Using the seventies as an iconic period to develop the story, the movie uses an omniscient narrator who knows the thoughts and feelings of every character. This is complemented with the visual elements that create Mary's and Max's surroundings. For example, the lights used to depict Australia are of warm tones like yellow, orange, and red. These represent a "familiar" environment mixed with the joy of childhood, but also these colors have hints of mystery and aggressive love, seen in Mary's family dynamics. Other details that can be appreciated are the soft textures used in carpets, clothes, furniture, or even in Vera's slippers. In a logical way, it could be said that the use of colors is also related to the time difference between both countries: Australia is depicted with warmer tones (day) while the US with cooler ones (night). This might be seen as irrelevant, but it also states that distance isn't only spatial; it also has to do with time, ages, universes, and reality references.
Max's life is darker, so its depiction is filled with shadows. Black and white are the dominant colors of his environment, and it is only when Mary sends something that other colors pop out. Overall, the dominant tones express the coldness and loneliness Max lives through, becoming also a reference of the United States' context.
Mary and Max is a pioneering film, since it develops topics that are commonly treated in a cheesy, dramatic, and obvious way. Moreover, it uses esthetic elements that successfully create particular environments and imagery, which ultimately draw in the audience. The movie draws the narrative of its characters in a truly original way, showing how affective bonds surpass age, origin, and experiences.
Being pen pals, Mary and Max describe in detail everything that happens in their everyday lives. Their shared lack of references in how the other person lives transforms their correspondence into a creative friendship, where the protagonists have to imagine their own version of the other's world. This lowers the distance and time barriers and, of course, the barriers of traditional cultures, age, and gender, creating an atmosphere of pure friendship in an abstract and transcendental level.
This epistolary journey helps the audience understand the weight of friendships and how these evolve with time. Mary and Max proves to us that relationships and spiritual bonds are built with words, common stories, and the little details that make up the everyday life.
If you like films about friendship and relationships, check out The Top 10 Movies You Must Watch With Your Best Friends
Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards